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The Syrians in The Book of the Divided Kingdoms: A Literary/Theological Approach

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image of Biblical Interpretation

In earlier work on the Deuteronomic History, I have defined 1 Kings 11 to 2 Kings 17 as 'The Book of the Divided Kingdoms', and argued that its deep-structural 'message' is one of salvation for northern Israel. Here I present the Syrians, the most pervasive foreign presence in this 'Book', as a major element in this dynamic of salvation. In the account of the house of Jehu, they function analogously to the foreign power in one of the judge-cycles (in Judges and 1 Samuel) by means of which Yahweh punishes Israel—a role necessary to the eventual salvation. Historically, it seems likely that all the traditions about the Syrians, and about the prophet Elisha, originated in the time of Jehu's dynasty. But in the existing text, stories of the Syrians and/or Elisha extend well back into the time of Ahab. The reason for this, I suggest, is that the Syrians' salvific role is being intensified by making them agents in the process whereby Baalworship was removed from Israel. In terms of 'ideological geography', Israel's north-east (Syrian) boundary is given a positive valence (cf. traditions of the arrival from that direction of Israel's ancestors), in opposition to the north-west (Tyrian) boundary, whence comes the Baalistic threat. This suggests a promise of salvation even in the later invasions from the north-east, by the Assyrians and their imperial successors.

Affiliations: 1: St Andrews College


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